Meet North East Fife’s Candidates: Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2021
On 6 May, we have the opportunity to vote for the Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who will represent us in Holyrood (the Scottish Parliament). The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming election is 19 April. You can do so through the official government website, where you can also find out if you are eligible to vote - as are many UK, EU, or Commonwealth citizens who reside in Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament, established in 1999, has the power to pass decisions and make laws regarding devolved matters. These matters include, but are not limited to: education, healthcare, social services, the environment, housing, and police and fire services. The UK Government remains responsible for reserved matters such as foreign affairs, defence, and immigration.
Voting in Scottish Parliamentary elections takes place via the additional member system (AMS). Within this system, there are two ways an MSP may be elected, reflected in the fact that each voter has two votes. Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies and each constituency elects one MSP. St Andrews is situated in the North East Fife constituency. These are known as constituency MSPs and are elected by “first past the post” - the same way MPs are elected to Westminster. This is the voter’s “first vote”. The “second vote” is used to elect 56 additional members to the Scottish Parliament. Scotland is divided into 8 parliamentary regions and each region elects 7 regional MSPs. In the second vote, the voter votes for a party rather than a candidate. These MSPs are also sometimes referred to as List MSPs.
The AMS was adopted in order to increase proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament. The additional members make it less likely that a situation will arise in which one party possesses the majority of seats (and, thus, form a government), whilst having received less than half of the vote share. The AMS, additionally, makes it more likely that new parties or smaller parties, like the Scottish Green Party, will receive representation in Parliament than in a system which uses first past the post alone.
The Saint sat down with the candidates for the North East Fife constituency seat to discuss the upcoming election. Due to scheduling, these interviews were held before both the findings of the Hamilton inquiry and the Holyrood parliamentary committee inquiry were made public. These inquiries investigated the Government’s handling of complaints made against former First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s conduct in relation to the allegations.
Subsequently, the Hamilton inquiry has found that Sturgeon did not break ministerial code. However, the parliamentary committee found that Sturgeon’s government oversaw “a deeply flawed harassment policy” which, “ultimately, let down two complainants” with a narrow majority of the committee further concluding that statements Sturgeon had made to parliament were inaccurate, according to the BBC. While Nicola Sturgeon has since survived a vote of no confidence held on 24 March, the most important verdict on the matter will be that of the voters on 6 May.
Willie Rennie - Scottish Liberal Democrats
Willie Rennie is the incumbent candidate for the North East Fife seat and the current party leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats - a position he has held since 2011. He has been the MSP for North East Fife since 2016, having prior served as a List MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife.
As a man with a busy schedule (he arrived at our Zoom meeting after an online discussion with constituents), we wasted no time before diving into the key platforms of the Liberal Democrats this election cycle.
“The Lib Dems have been fixated with education. We’ve focused on it for as long as I can remember - all the way back to when Paddy Ashdown proposed a penny on income tax for education. We believe it’s the best route for people to be all that they can be.”
“The Scottish education system used to be one of the best in the world. We used to boast about how great our education system was but, in recent years, it’s slipped down the international rankings. It’s now just average. We’ve focused on trying to turn that around: part of which is the OECD independent review into the Curriculum for Excellence. The SNP have decided not to publish that until after the election which we think doesn’t allow people to judge Nicola Sturgeon on her education record because we’re missing part of it.”
“So, what do we do? We are fully in support of the Pupil Equity Fund which, basically, targets money towards those from disadvantaged backgrounds to give them extra support and tutoring. We argued for years with the SNP to try and get them to implement the Fund and they’ve eventually done it, which is great.”
“We believe in investing in early years’ education, particularly down to two year olds, and we have a commitment to expand nursery education for all two year olds rather than just the targeted group we’ve got just now.”
“Then, there’s investing in the teaching workforce. The best way, we think, of recovering Scottish education is to invest in teachers. We want teachers to lead a revision of our curriculum….and we want to end the casualisation of the teaching workforce.”
Another policy area of importance highlighted by the Liberal Democrats is the combating of violence against women and girls. Mr Rennie had recently shared an open letter from the leader of the Westminster Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, to the Commissioner of the Met Police which asked the Commissioner to consider resignation in the wake of the policing of the vigil of Sarah Everard. Regarding the issue, Mr Rennie stated:
“We’ve brought forward a positive proposal to work cross-party: a commission to look at how we tackle violence against women and girls. It’s being led by our Equalities Spokesperson, Caron Lindsay, and we’ve already had the Justice Secretary at the Scottish Government agree to work with us. Whether it’s education or the justice system, we need to make sure that every single part of Government and society is focused on how we can allow women to have the freedoms that men enjoy: to walk and go anywhere, at any time and any place, without fear of attack or abuse or insult.”
We moved on to discuss the Liberal Democrats’ approach to industrial policy - as Mr Rennie’s campaign literature had highlighted his work with constituents employed at the BiFab premises in Methil.
“We want to maximise the industrial potential in Scotland. We want to make sure the off-shore wind farms that you’ll see from St Andrews are built in Methil and other yards across Scotland. The cackhanded way of the Scottish Government isn’t delivering results as they are too eager to pursue the photo opportunity and not the long-term plan. We’ve had a litany of failures along this front, from the Ferguson shipyard in Greenock, where the budget was breached by about 100% and the ferries still aren’t ready, to the BiFab yard...to the smelter in Fort William - none of which delivered the results promised.”
Mr Rennie stated that the Liberal Democrats’ approach differs from the SNP’s due to its centralisation of a “comprehensive” and “long term plan” in partnership with multiple sectors of industry. He also emphasised the necessity for Scotland’s industry to maintain a competitive edge through promoting sectors which require “greater technical skill”.
Furthermore, Mr Rennie noted that mental health is at the “centre of [his] campaign”.
“We have a choice: we can either do what the SNP want to do and have an independence referendum by Christmas which we think would be divisive...or we can focus on the recovery because people have been through a hell of a time in the last year and services have suffered, which is what we want to do. We already had long waits [for mental health services] before we started the pandemic and the service was just not up to scratch. It wasn’t uncommon for young people to wait over a year to get treatment. So, that needs to change and we’ve got a plan. There’s multiple levels to it: to work at the specialist level with psychiatrists and psychologists - to get all the trained positions in place - and working with police, A&E departments, and GP surgeries.”
“It will require a huge amount of work to get this right. But, if the SNP have their way, they’ll focus on independence. I know they won’t neglect mental health all together, but it won’t have the same needle-sharp focus that we think it requires.”
In addition to national policies, Mr Rennie emphasised his work in North East Fife.
“I take the service provided to constituents very seriously. Students who’ve been around for a few years will probably have seen me around - I’m in and out of the University a lot. I love taking part in the debates, I just wish we could get back to them soon because they were great fun. I make myself available, listen, and campaign on students’ behalf: whether it’s on the issue of HMOs, support for the University, Brexit, transport links, or the cost of accommodation.”
“I spend a lot of time in the community trying to fix problems. Since I was elected back in 2016 to NE Fife, I’ve helped with 9,500 individual cases. So, local action and service is an important issue to try and get across in this campaign.”
While Mr Rennie and his Party oppose a second independence referendum, he discussed the Liberal Democrats desire to reform the United Kingdom.
“We are in favour of reforming the United Kingdom to give Scotland more authority within a federal structure. It would, effectively, involve better agreement across the UK rather than Westminster always having the final say on matters in Scotland...We were instrumental in delivering the Scottish Parliament in the first place, so we are committed to devolution and reforming the UK and this is another step on that route”.
We move on to discuss the Holyrood inquiry, whose committee contained a Liberal Democrat MSP.
“I think the whole thing’s terribly sad. At the heart of this is two women who took their complaints to the Scottish Government and the Government let them down. The Government has admitted they let them down...My biggest fear is that women might be discouraged from coming forward in the future because the Government mishandled it so badly.”
“I am no fan of Alex Salmond and when my colleague on the committee asked him to apologise to the women, he refused. That’s terrible. But, equally, the accusation is that the First Minister has not behaved well - that she’s misled Parliament in order to protect herself. That’s what the Hamilton inquiry will find out next week...I want to wait until the inquiry is finished before we make a judgement. We’ve not decided what we’re going to do yet.”
We conclude the interview, by discussing the situation in North East Fife, which has been described as a “two horse race” between Mr Rennie’s Party and the SNP. The Saint asked why those who have previously voted for SNP should consider voting for the Liberal Democrats in North East Fife this election. Mr Rennie replied:
“Because I’m a progressive alternative. Because I offer a positive solution to the problems that the country faces, putting the recovery from COVID first; creating jobs; tackling the climate emergency; dealing with mental health waits; providing good education. We can put aside our differences about independence...And, they’ll probably be disturbed by all the division within the SNP which is more divided than I’ve ever seen them before: over sexual harassment; over gender issues; over strategies for independence; over Alex Salmond.”
“I’ve been around for 10 years as leader and constituents know what I care about.”
Rhuaraidh Fleming - Scottish National Party
Mr Rhuaraidh Fleming is standing for the first time as a candidate in the NE Fife constituency. As an active campaigner within the community - having, at the time of the interview, recently made headlines for his part in a petition to contest the closure of TSB’s North East Fife branches’ closure - we began by discussing his previous activism:
“I’ve spent the last decade - my adult working life - working in, and campaigning for, issues that affect North East Fife. Public service is at the heart of what I do and I want to take that further. Being the MSP for North East Fife would give me a greater opportunity to do more of what I’ve already done for the people who live here, who work here, who study here.”
Mr Fleming had recently stated online that the “the SNP will always make the wellbeing of young people a priority”. In our interview, he said of the subject:
“The well-being of every young person has been central to the SNP: you have education reforms and investment. But it goes back even further than that: the ‘baby box’ gives every single person the same start in life.”
Regarding what the SNP has delivered for students specifically, Mr Fleming states:
“Tuition fees have not been a part of Scottish education since 2007 when the SNP first scrapped the graduate endowment tax put in place by the previous Labour-Lib Dem coalition. So, keeping education free has been a cornerstone of the SNP. It extends beyond universities, to colleges as well: the budget this year has a funding settlement that supports all education establishments.”
As well as support given to universities directly throughout the pandemic, Mr Fleming highlighted “the support that’s been given to benefit students themselves” such as the legislation put in place which allows residents to “cancel tenancy early”.
Other policy areas that are central to Mr Fleming’s campaign include “backing Fife businesses”, improving infrastructure, and supporting the COVID recovery.
He highlighted his work with infrastructure-centred campaigns, such as one to re-establish a real link in Newborough, and continued on the subject:
“When asking what the major local issues are, by some considerable distance, what people were getting back to me with was the condition of the roads...Roads need to be improved not just for vehicles but, more importantly, for cycling. There are some roads you take a look at on a bike and think ‘nope, not worth it’. To encourage active travel, you need to haven a road that you can actually be active on.”
“On the COVID recovery, the Scottish Government has put the recovery front and centre of everything this year, quite rightly...But we need to do more than just recover back to the point we were at this time last year. I want to see a bit of ambition, a bit of aspiration towards where we want to be.”
On the subject of business support, Mr Fleming stated:
“There has certainly been considerable support for local businesses from the Scottish Government...But, I think we have been held back slightly because Scotland obviously doesn’t have all the financial levers that I believe it requires, that a normal independent country would have. So, we have been reliant on a lot of decisions taken at Westminster centred around support for businesses. For example, the furlough scheme. The Scottish Government wanted to extend that last year when it was deadlined to be closed after 6 months. The UK Government relented at the last minute, but that was an uncertainty we didn’t need.”
I asked Mr Fleming if he feels that he faces an increased challenge being a new name on the ballot slip and running against a Party leader, Willie Rennie. He replied:
“I’m running my campaign based on my knowledge and my experience in and of NE Fife. I have come to know the issues that affect every community across the constituency. I’ve worked hard to help them over the years. I’m also standing based on the SNP’s strong record in government and what we’ve been able to provide for NE Fife over the years - whether that’s the two rebuilt high schools, Waid and Madras; or whether that’s the two new health centres, in St Andrews and in Cupar; or whether that’s the significant investment in Stratheden. There’s plenty that the SNP has done in NE Fife and for NE Fife exclusively. That’s the record I’m standing on - both personal and Party. That’s what I’m putting to the voters on the 6 May.”
We move on to discuss the ongoing Holyrood parliamentary inquiry.
“What everyone needs to remember are the women who made a difficult decision to come forward. The First Minister said in her statement, multiple times, that the two women were let down by a mistake that the Scottish Government made. That’s been admitted to. So it’s important that it is kept in mind that the parliamentary inquiry is looking into the handling of those complaints and ensuring that anyone else who comes forward in the future isn’t let down in the same way.”
“The inquiry has to be allowed to run its course, to be allowed to produce their findings. Obviously, I can’t guess what the outcome will be but what I would say is that the First Minister has led Scotland through this pandemic, putting herself front and centre, in front of the country, speaking to people at the daily briefings so everyone knows what’s happening, when it’s happening, and why it’s happening. We know from the opinion polls that her personal ratings are very high and they’ve remained very high because she’s treated the people of Scotland with respect. I’ve got full faith in the First Minister to carry on leading this government and the SNP to a victory in May.”
Remaining on the topic of national headlines, last year, the Scottish Government proposed the Gender Recognition Act Reform Bill which would “amend the way in which a trans person can obtain [a gender recognition] Certificate”, rectifying the current system which “is viewed by many applicants or would-be applicants as demeaning, lengthy, stressful and expensive”, according to the cabinet secretary for social security, Shirley Anne Sommerville. However, it was reported by the BBC that this proposal “divided opinion” within the SNP. I asked Mr Fleming where he stood on this matter.
“The GRA reform did get paused, like a few other pieces of legislation, because of COVID. As far as I’m aware, it will be brought back in the next parliament. My position is that the fundamental point of human rights is that they are human rights - it doesn’t matter who you are. Everyone is born with equal rights. I agree there is a place for debate on all legislation - every piece of legislation going through Parliament has to be scrutinised so that it is in its best possible form. I am broadly supportive of the proposed reforms.
“Of course, I’m aware that there are a number of people who’ve raised concerns, but the most reasonable thing to do is await the publication of the bill, if and when it is placed in front of Parliament after the election, to see what it actually says.”
Mr Fleming stated online that a vote for his candidacy is a vote to “put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands”. When so many politicians from other parties in Holyrood reject the necessity of a second independence referendum on the ground that the first was a “once in a generation” event, I asked Mr Fleming why he holds a different position.
“Democracy didn’t stop on the 18 September 2014. A lot has happened since then: in 2016, the SNP won an election on the basis that we should hold a referendum if there was to be a material change in circumstances such as being removed from the EU against our will. Since then, Brexit has happened. We’ve also had 22 polls in a row over the last year showing a majority support for independence. That’s a very clear opinion amongst the people in Scotland: they want to have a vote on their future. It’s anti-democratic to deny that.”
“I see independence as the best future for Scotland; as, currently, the only way for Scotland to have the best possible recovery from COVID because it will be made in Scotland for Scotland. I see it as the only way for Scotland to re-join the EU. I see it as the best way for us to uphold our responsibilities in terms of the climate emergency - we’re hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties and we’ve got world-leading climate change targets - but I think we could chart our own course even more powerfully as an independent country, able to divert resources as necessary towards what is the biggest emergency facing us, COVID notwithstanding.”
Mr Fleming concludes the interview, stating:
“I’ve given my whole adult life working to try and make NE Fife the best place possible for people who live here. I’ve enjoyed helping people. It’s what I got into politics to do; it’s what I’ve done - and I want to do more.”
Rhona Metcalfe - Scottish Conservatives
Rhona Metcalfe is a first-time parliamentary candidate - although you wouldn’t be able to tell from her friendly, confident demeanour and conversation, well-versed in the Party line. We began by discussing the medium we found ourselves meeting over:
“I think that adapting life to online has been challenging to a lot of people...I desperately feel for parents who are trying to home-school and work from home. It must be an absolute nightmare.”
The pandemic has also affected her own political campaign:
“Obviously, I’m relatively new to the political side. So, it has been difficult because I haven’t been able to go out: to get my face known, to chat to people. I’ve relied heavily on social media. But, of course, there are an awful lot of people who don’t use social media. It’s been hard to run a campaign - but as hard as it is for me, it’s been just as hard for all of the other candidates. We’re all in the same boat in that respect”.
On that note, we moved on to discussing her background and her recent transition into the world of politics as a candidate:
“I joined the Royal Air Force in 1990, at the age of 19, and served for a total of 28 years. I went in as airwomen and then I commissioned a few years later to become an officer. After I retired, I decided I wanted to do something very different. My husband and I decided to come back to Scotland - I’m originally from Scotland - and run a guest house. That’s what we currently do at the moment”
“I realised quite early on [after departing from the RAF] that I missed helping people. I miss the public sector - I find it a fascinating world to be in. In the Air Force, as a personnel officer, my whole role was helping people and providing solutions to problems. I’m very much a people focused person. And, I’ve always been interested in politics. I’ve always followed both the politics in Westminster and up here. So, for me it seemed a natural progression [to become a candidate]. ”
Ms Metcalfe summarised her key policy platforms as including a “post-COVID recovery plan, business rates reviews, and transportation links”.
“Business and the tourism industry - which is a vital lifeline in Scotland -, have suffered immensely [during the pandemic]. I’ve experienced that as a guest house owner. I know guest house owners who have to make a choice at the moment between saving their business and feeding their children. The thing that is important to me is setting up a post-COVID recovery plan that looks at our status after coming out of lockdown and how we match funding to every stage [of the recovery]. A business cannot go from lockdown to being open. It must receive some sort of support in the middle.”
“We also need a really good look at business rates, especially on the high streets which have suffered dreadfully...As well as this, we need to look at infrastructure and transport links: getting the rural communities connected to the towns. Conservatives are not just looking at developing the transport link between the four major cities, but developing better links for the rural towns and villages in between. If we’ve got those connections, we can utilise city growth to impact on rural growth.”
“These are the things that I will be standing up for. They will help build businesses back up. They will help power up Scotland. And, they will help our local communities prosper again.”
Speaking directly to the student population of St Andrews, she stated: “Around student tuition fees, we have changed our policy. Our view, at the moment, is that it is not fair to have to consider tuition fees on top of everything else that is going on at the moment.”
Of course, the recent headlines dominated by Scottish politics loom over the conversation. We began by addressing the fact that by February of this year, 21 consecutive polls had shown a “Yes” majority in favour of Independence. Despite this, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, stated that his party won’t support a second independence referendum “under any circumstances”. The Saint asked Ms Metcalfe: if opinion polls show a ‘Yes’ majority after the Holyrood elections, why should the Scottish Conservatives continue to hold this position?
“There are still large swathes of people who do not want another independence referendum. We were told that an independence referendum would be a once in a generation - and that’s documented, no matter what the SNP are saying. The second thing is: we shouldn’t be talking about an independence referendum while we have a pandemic going on. There are far more important things that people want to see done.”
“Lots of people that I speak with during connect calling are more interested with sorting out the COVID pandemic and building our economy back up.”
The other political affair dominating headlines was the ongoing Holyrood Inquiry into Nicola Sturgeon’s government’s 2018 investigation into harassment claims made against former First Minister, Alex Salmond. Before Sturgeon had given her evidence to the inquiry, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, had called for her resignation. In light of this, Sonia Sodha, writing for The Guardian, stated that the inquiry had been turned into “political theatre by Sturgeon’s opponents, who seem to care more about claiming her scalp [than the events that transpired]”. The Saint asked Ms Metcalfe if she agreed with Sodha’s assessment.
“No, I don’t. What we’ve got to remember is that lots of people are banding around the expression that ‘we’re just doing it for political gain’, but let’s not kid ourselves: from the very start we have pushed, and won two votes in Parliament, to have evidence handed over to the Inquiry and on both occasions the SNP have said no. They have gone against the will of parliament. That can’t be allowed to happen. It’s inexcusable and that is why we are now calling for a vote of no confidence in John Swinney.”
We broaden the discussion to Westminster. While the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives is independent of their Westminster counterparts, the leadership in Westminster inevitably influences people’s view of both parties. And, with Douglas Ross having previously clashed publicly with PM Boris Johnson, most notably when he resigned as a Scotland Office Minister to protest Dominic Cumming’s trip to County Durham during the first lockdown, The Saint asked: will Boris Johnson’s leadership be a help or a hindrance to the campaigns of Conservatives in this election?
“First and foremost, Douglas Ross is the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. He’s not afraid to stand up to Boris Johnson if he feels the policies being discussed in Westminster are not suitable for Scotland.”
“The second thing is that it’s not about personalities, it’s about policies. Anybody who is looking at the Scottish Conservatives and thinking ‘I don’t like Boris Johnson’ has to remember that he’s not on our ballot paper. You have to look at our policies and decide ‘are they the best policies for Scotland’. I would say they are - we will look out for the people of Scotland above anything else”.
We end by discussing Willie Rennie’s most recent campaign literature which states: “voting for anyone else here just lets the SNP in”. The Saint posed the question: why should the people of St Andrews vote for the Scottish Conservatives over the Liberal Democrats if they’re seeking to keep the SNP out?
Ms Metcalfe replied: “A lot of people talk about tactical voting and I do understand that there’s quite a bit of it going on in North East Fife. But, I would say, once again, it is about our policies. Do you want to vote for a Liberal Democrat, if you don’t necessarily believe in his policies? St Andrews with its hospitality, location, and tourism links will benefit greatly from our policies in rural affairs.”
“And, it’s not just the constituent vote, it’s also the Party vote. I would argue that voting for us in both is the best way to keep the SNP out.”
Wendy Haynes - Scottish Labour Party Candidate
Wendy Haynes is the Scottish Labour Party’s candidate for the North East Fife. Originally from the English West Midlands, she now lives in Cupar and states “I have made Fife my home”. Throughout the interview (over Zoom), and after the obligatory technical difficulties, Haynes emphasised that both her own, and the Scottish Labour Party’s, priority is to facilitate Scotland’s COVID-19 recovery. We began by discussing her background and why she is running as a candidate for North East Fife’s seat.
“I’m a librarian. I used to work at the University of St Andrews, actually. But, I’ve been working as a health librarian with NHS Fife, based at the Victoria Hospital, for the last 3 years.”
“I’ve been a member of the Labour Party on-and-off for around 30 years. But I’ve been very much involved, particularly in the last 5 or 6 years, with the Party here in Fife.”
Later in our conversation, she stated that “we’ve got to put money into the heath service”:
“Working in the NHS as I do, I’ve seen the effect that COVID has had and we’ve really got to help the NHS catch up with surgeries that have been delayed. It’s going to be a really difficult job because staff are exhausted. They’re not impressed with current job pay offers. It will take a real investment of time and money to give the NHS the boost it needs to give us the service we think people deserve”.
“It was a bit accidental that I got involved in being a candidate. I was a candidate in the 2019 General Election and that was really a desperate, last-minute thing because we didn’t have a candidate and I just happened to be around,” she laughs. “I got persuaded. This time there was a selection process and we had more time to think about it. So, I was really quite flattered that I was chosen.”
“The situation here in North East Fife is very much a two horse race between the Lib Dems and the SNP. So, I know - barring a miracle - I’m not going to be elected. My focus is very much on getting the Labour message across. And, with the Scottish elections ‘second votes’, we want people to vote for our Regional List candidates. That’s an important thing to get across.”
Later in the conversation, she added to this, stating: “Inevitably, in the first vote, there will be tactical voting...but in the regional vote, people should vote for their beliefs.” And, that “on the regional list we’ve got two excellent sitting MSPs: Claire Baker and Alex Rowley.”
Regarding the “Labour message”, Haynes’ Official Facebook Page states that she’s running to “bring an end to austerity, tackle the climate crisis, and reform the constitution”. However, when asked if this was still the case, Haynes’ replied:
“Facebook - I need to look at that, actually. We’ve got a new leader recently, and what I put on Facebook, while stuff I believe in, needs to be aligned with the messages that are now coming from Anas Sanwar”. Particularly, she highlighted that “Anas Sanwar doesn’t want to put any emphasis at all” on constitutional reform. “The emphasis has got to be on COVID recovery. We can’t just let the SNP dictate what the important issues are.”
Furthermore, she stated that the projects to end austerity in Scotland and tackle the climate crisis have been “subsumed within how we tackle recovery from COVID”. “We want to stimulate employment because so many people have lost their jobs - a lot of young people have lost hope of getting onto the job market. That links in with climate change because a large part of [the stimulation] is green jobs and a green industrial revolution.”
Anas Sarwar was announced the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party on February 27th after a snap leadership election within the party was triggered by the surprise resignation of Richard Leonard. We began discussing if Anas Sarwar was the Scottish Labour Leader who could reinvigorate the party and the changes in the Scottish political landscape that had led to the Party’s loss of the foothold they once occupied. Scottish Labour, who won 53 of the 73 constituency seats in 1999, secured only 3 constituency seats in the last Scottish Parliamentary election.
Labour has lost their foothold, states Haynes, “for a lot of reasons”. “I think Labour has lost touch, to a large extent, with the interests of the working classes. The working classes themselves have changed: we can’t rely, as we used to, on strong [workers’] union support with the collapse of a lot of the traditional industries.”
“In Scotland, they [Labour] lost they’re way. It culminated in the 2014 independence referendum as many people say it was utterly disastrous that Labour was seen to be in cahoots with the Conservatives at that time - and that was the final nail in the coffin for Labour.”
“It’s a complex subject. I believe, to get back to where we were, we have to have distinctive policies that appeal to ordinary working people again. I was quite keen on Jeremy Corbyn and believe that the changes he brought about in the Party were very positive and brought a lot of support from young people. But, perhaps, in doing that, he distanced the Party even farther from traditional working class Labour supporters.”
“We’ve got to position ourselves as a radical alternative to what the SNP are offering. So far, I’m really encouraged by what Anas Sarwar is saying and doing. I think he’s getting a distinctive message across and that’s really what we need. He’s emphasising unity both within the Labour Party and in a wider sense as we try to come out of the current crisis.”
The Saint followed up by asking Ms Haynes if she agreed with Sarwar’s position within the Scottish Independence debate. Speaking in February on BBC Scotland’s The Nine, Sarwar stated: "I honestly don't think, having come through the trauma of Covid, we should have our government machinery focused on another referendum”. Haynes stated, “I fully agree with him. Another referendum would be horribly divisive. We need to be pulling together to make a recovery from COVID. But, I don’t think Anas Sarwar is saying that he’s going to ignore the overwhelming opinion of the Scottish people by any means - we’re not in the business of doing that.”
We ended with a return to the Labour message:
“We’re one of three anti-independence parties” in Scotland and, as “the Lib Dems and SNP both like to put themselves forward as progressive parties”, “we’re one of three on that side of things too. So, we really have got to try to make the Labour message something distinctive and that’s what we’re working on.”
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